Reviewed by Clea Dobrish
In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado- a raw, honest, and innovatively told memoir that paints a new picture of abuse. Machado has recently made herself known in the literary world with her short story collection titled Her Body and Other Parties. Using fairy tales to depict the stories of multiple women with
different backgrounds, Machado explores the horrors of how society views and treats them.
Although it was her first work, it won The Bard Fiction Prize in 2018 and was a finalist for The National Book Award for Fiction. Machado is passionate about women and their stories. In her newest work she reclaims her own truth about her abusive relationship. Through her collection of poems and essays she faces her trauma using innovative literary devices that are suitable for all readers.
In The Dream House is written about Machado’s first queer relationship which became abusive. Machado’s relationship seemed perfect in the beginning; despite the distance they stayed together, taking trips and eventually moving in together in the dream house. Even though she was so significant, her partner is only ever referred to as “the woman in the dream house.” Slowly the woman began to act more possessive and aggressive, subjecting Machado to violent episodes as well as verbally, psychologically, and emotionally abusive outbursts. The relationship with the woman in the dream house changed Machado’s life as well as the way that she viewed queer people in society. One of the many things Machado does brilliantly to illustrate this is reveal how queer people are perceived in media. In the piece titled “Dream House as Queer Villainy”, Machado analyzes her relationship to the way queer stereotypes are portrayed in the media. Machado explains, “I know, for example, I should be offended by Disney’s lineup of vain, effete ne’er-do-wells (Scar, Jafar), sinister drag queens (Ursula, Cruella de Vil), and constipated, man-hating power dykes (Lady Tremaine, Maleficent)”. While Machado understands the fundamental issue of associating queerness with evil, she cannot help but to love their theatrical fabulousness, ruthlessness and power. Despite recognizing the harmful stereotype, Macahdo identifies them as the most interesting characters because, “After all, they live in a world that hates them” (46). Through this memoir, Machado works to destroy the stigmas behind queer relationships.
Machado’s writing techniques are highly effective in bringing the reader inside not only the dream house but the relationship itself. Machado uses literary tropes as well as first and second person in order to bring the reader into the dream house and understand the truth behind queer relationships. One method that is very effective is her narration, subtle shifts between first and second person help engage the reader with the emotional content on a deeper level than simply being told. Recalling the first sign of abuse Machado explains, “Her grip goes hard, begins to hurt It is the first time she is touching you in a way that is not filled with love and you don’t know what to do” (57).
Macahdo adds something for everyone with her writing styles. Within this one memoir you can find a choose-your-own adventure story, a musical, a romance novel, a short essay analysis of the queer woman in society, and everything in between. Throughout the memoir, Machado uses many different literary devices and references. Two of the pieces allude to “Chekhov’s gun”. The idea behind “Chekhov’s gun” is that if there is a pistol hanging on the wall in the first act it must fire in the last act. This relates to the warning signs that were sprinkled through Machado’s time with the woman in the dream house. There is a piece entitled “Dream House as Chekhov’s Gun” where Machado recalls her partner getting aggressive on a fun night out, “you can feel her anger; you can’t see her but the smell of her changes She snaps around you like a venus flytrap” (149). Two pieces later, Machado brings the gun back with “Dream House as Chekhov’s Trigger” where there is another explosive episode, Machado blames herself for making mistakes and not realizing the warning signs. On both occasions mentioned in these pieces, Machado reflects on the ability for their interactions to go from loving to unpleasant in a matter of one drink. These two pieces assure the audience that each piece, each story, is in this memoir for a reason.
Another unique aspect of the book are the titles of each piece. They all begin by introducing “Dream House as” and alluding to the type of writing that would commence in that section. While the titles are crucial to the writing since they can also be read as individual works, this repetition has the capacity to remove the reader from the moment.
In The Dream House is a defiant memoir that deals with sensitive material in a way that is innovative and easy to digest. Carmen Maria Machado shatters the stereotypes of queer relationships and deals with her own experiences through brutal honesty and witty humor.
About Clea Dobrish
Clea Dobrish is an aspiring Creative Writing major at Eckerd College. She am currently working to get more involved as a writer and editor for the school newspaper to help develop and strengthen her skills in writing and publishing. Her work has yet to be published but hopes to one day have her writing published in literary magazines and other journals as well as working with writing as a form of art therapy.